Sunday, April 07, 2013

NH Pledge Politics for Seniors (A Lesson)

The NH House Resources, Recreation, and Development Committee will be hearing SB 190 on Tuesday, April 9, at 1:00 pm, in Room 305 at the LOB.

The bill is titled: Relative to admission fees for certain persons at state parks and historical sites.

From the bill’s  amended analysis: 

This bill changes the fees for admission to state parks and historical sites for persons 65 years of age or older by allowing them to purchase a Granite Parks Pass at one third of the cost of an individual season’s pass. Current law allows such persons to gain admission to such parks and historical sites for free. This bill eliminates the discount coupon fee books issued by the director of the division of parks and recreation. The bill also prohibits any discounts in such fees for members of the general court, general court staff, governor and council, and governor’s staff.

There you have it. This bill would change admission fees to NH state parks and historical sites. NH residents over the age of 65 are currently allowed to visit those places for free. SB 190 institutes a fee. Seniors would have to buy a pass at one third the cost of a regular season’s pass. Right now an individual season’s pass is $60. That means a senior pass would be $20.

Twenty bucks – it doesn’t sound like much, does it? Maine and Massachusetts all give seniors free access to their state parks. Vermont charges residents aged 62 and over $2.00 for a lifetime free pass.  A senior citizen can purchase a LIFETIME pass for our national park system for $10. For ten bucks, a US citizen aged 62 and up can buy a lifetime of visits to the Grand Canyon, Arcadia or any of the 57 other national parks. For $20 a NH senior can buy a pass to get into any state park (does not include the Flume, Cannon Mt. Tramway, Wallis Sands, or Hampton Beach) for a season.

And that, my friends, is the perfect illustration of pledge politics. NH is the only state in the union that funds its state park system with user fees. This is not because NH is clever and innovative. The reason other states don’t do it is because it doesn’t work – as this bill proves.

From an op-ed I wrote last year, Live Free and Porta-Potty:

The decision to fund the parks this way was enacted by the legislature in 1991. This means that for 20 years, our state parks have been consistently under funded. Generally the parks are about $400,000 a year over budget, and that is without fixing most of what needs to be repaired. A 10-year plan for the parks was written up in 2009. Doing everything that needs doing in that 10 year plan (which is available online) would cost about $75 million, or approximately 2 years worth of the direct monies brought in by outdoor recreation.

The lead sponsors of this bill are:  Republican Senator Nancy Stiles of NH Senate District 24, Hampton and other seacoast area towns. Republican State Rep. Renzullo of Husdson, and Rep. Borden (a Democrat) of New Castle.

All of these folks are from the southern part of the state. Not that support for this bill was limited to the south. In the NH Senate, Senators Bradley and Woodburn both supported this. Senator Woodburn was more than a little tone deaf on this, given that his constituents in Berlin pay the highest property taxes in the state. New Castle has some of the lowest property taxes in the entire state. Tough luck for you, Berlin seniors. 

I mention property taxes because the property tax is the primary funding mechanism in our state. For retirees (the ones who aren’t amongst NH’s 27,000 millionaires) the property tax goes up and up, but their pensions do not. This  also disproportionately affects women, because women workers earn less than men, and women live longer. Many NH seniors are hanging on to their homes by a thread. This bill just piles on a little more misery. 

Rather than tax our 27,000 millionaires on their income, we’d rather make our seniors (living on fixed incomes) pay an outrageous fee to use our state park system. This is a direct result of pledge politics. Shame on us.

If you feel inclined to express displeasure at this measure:

House Resources, Recreation, and Development Committee

Find My Legislator

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